Monday, October 3, 2011

Greek Keys No. 5

Photo by Lubomir Pořizka  |  The Palaces of Prague, Zdeněk Hojda and Jiří Pešek  |  1994

This handsome key is from the ceiling of Villa Lanna, in Prague. The villa was built in the 1860s and today houses the Academy of Sciences.

Pavlovsk Palace  |  Wikipedia Image
This key comes from a frieze in the Pavlovsk Palace, built by Paul I of Russia in the 1780s, near St. Petersburg.

Photo: Erich Lessing  |  Karl Friedrich Schinkel, An Architect for Prussia  | Barry Bergdoll, 1994

This is a detail of a bronze door designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel for the entrance to the Bauakademie (architectural academy), in Berlin. The academy was built 1831-36, and was demolished in the 1960s, however the door was saved. Below you can see how closely the door compares to its corresponding part in Schinkel's original design.

Photo: Erich Lessing  |  Karl Friedrich Schinkel, An Architect for Prussia  | Barry Bergdoll, 1994

A chair of leather and brass from Williams-Sonoma incorporates the Greek key.

The Oxford History of Classical Art  |  John Boardman, 1993

This complicated key is Etruscan, and comes from the pediment of a temple at Pyrgi. Pyrgi was an ancient Etruscan port in central Italy, now Santa Severa. Stare at the key that I've reconstructed, and five square diamonds will appear.


  1. Hello Mark:
    It is quite extraordinary to note how many variations there are on the theme of the Greek key.

    The Williams-Sonoma chair which you illustrate here is exceedingly attractive as well as being, we imagine, highly unusual.

  2. It is interesting to ponder the function of the Greek keys. It seems that they force the eye to move along, yet at the same time slow it down and focus it. The discontinuous Schinkel one resembles letterpress typography ornaments.

    I will have to do a posting on Chinese key designs, just to compare with your Western examples.
    --Road to Parnassus

  3. The Greek Key must be one of the most enduring of design patterns, and has universal appeal. It still looks fresh even when used today. The Etruscan key is lovely - when you look at it for a while diamond shapes appear, it creates an optical illusion.

  4. Hello Jane and Lance:
    I love things that span time and cultures, and I think the Williams-Sonoma chair does that, though the smaller frets give it a more oriental feel.

  5. Hi Road to Parnassus - I like your observation that the Greek key functions as an element of both movement and focus. I've placed a key that runs around two rooms and a hallway, just above my baseboard, and it serves to unify the areas.

  6. Hi Rosemary - It took me a second, but I see the diamonds! What a great optical illusion!

  7. What can I say? The Greek key is quite simply, my favorite motif, bar none. Elegant, graphic, stylish. I have to restrain myself from overdosing.

  8. Dear Dilettante - Friends kid me about my love of the Greek key because it's to be found all around my house. It's interesting, isn't it, how a particular motif has been so closely associated with elegance and refinement?

  9. Yes, I wish we could see more of this particular room.

  10. that visual effect is really cool! The Chinese and Japanese created many fret patterns too. Many of them incorporate swastika shapes, which we must now eschew. Good thing there are lots more without that element. The house I'm working on has a cool floor with a fret pattern made of Holly and Ebony woods surrounded by quarter sawn oak.

  11. Hi, Steve - I remember driving by a Washington, D. C. government building and seeing a Greek key with swastikas. That certainly helps date any American structure!

    Glad you enjoy the Greek keys — I have the whole never-ending series on my side bar. I've been enjoying following the progress of your current project, and I encourage others to visit it at art+works, also on my side bar!

  12. Hi Mark,
    Simple, timeless, and sooo elegant. Thank you.

  13. Sorry I haven't commented. I've been having computer difficulties with Blogger, and am rather frustrated.

    What beautiful Greek key borders. I am fascinated by the complex ones, but for my own use prefer the most simple.

    I hope to get to Pavlosk one day. Wouldn't that be great?

  14. Hi, Terry - I hope all your computer frustrations are over soon, if not already. A couple years ago I went through three months of computer problems and was ready to pull out my hair. Glad that's over!

    I agree with you about the keys. I'm fascinated by the more complicated ones (and as you know, I've duplicated several for this blog), but for my own house, I prefer simpler ones. I was taken with the Pavlosk key because it is both simple and different.